Residents in Kerala’s Poonthura protest restrictions, govt to address issues

Poonthura, a coastal area which has reported an unusual number of COVID-19 cases, have been put under strict restrictions that made life difficult for the residents.
Residents in Kerala’s Poonthura protest restrictions, govt to address issues
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Scores of people came out on the street in the containment zone of Poonthura in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday morning, in protest. After an unusual number of COVID-19 cases were reported from the coastal area, stricter restrictions were put in place as the city itself went into triple lockdown from Monday onwards.

But even as the rest of the city, including the neighbouring wards, had shops open from 7 am to 11 am, Poonthura was completely shut. This has caused many practical difficulties to the residents, with the shops in the neighbourhood wards refusing to serve them anything.

Following the unrest and arguments with the local police on Friday, district authorities and senior police officers and health department officials came to Poonthura to make peace.

“They have agreed to address the issues we have raised. One big issue was that people who tested positive for the coronavirus were taken to isolation centres but without an explanation. Many of them did not understand what was happening. One of our requests to the authorities was to explain to them and convince them of the need for isolation before taking them away. To give them some time to prepare for it. Even after they were taken away, they received poor treatment at the hospitals. They began making calls to their families back home and telling them not to take tests because if you are positive, you will be taken to a centre and not be taken care of,” says Fr Bebinson, parish priest of Poonthura.

Poonthura was badly hit during the Ockhi cyclone of 2017, but that hadn’t stopped scores of fishermen from taking their boats out for rescue services during the August flood of 2018. The whole state mourned the death of Jineesh, a 24-year-old fisherman who had saved the lives of hundreds during the flood.

‘Grave situation’: Minister Shailaja

Health Minister KK Shailaja addressed the media on Friday afternoon to warn people about the danger of coming out in the public to protest without maintaining physical distancing. “It is a grave situation. We had been steadily controlling the spread and keeping COVID-19 deaths to minimum when suddenly a super spread happened in regions like Poonthura and Manacaud. From July 6 onwards, 1,192 tests were conducted in the Poonthura region out of which 243 results were positive. We had to put strict controls in place. It is violating these restrictions that people came out on the streets. Whoever provoked them to do this, it is very dangerous,” the Minister said, referring to reports of a political worker urging the people to take to the streets.

Misunderstanding on antigen testing

There has also been a misunderstanding among the people that antigen tests and RT-PCR tests are for different purposes. Messages were spread that COVID-19 patients were mixed with those people ‘who only tested positive for antigen’, under the impression that the latter did not confirm the disease. Another allegation was that it was this “higher number” that was reported as confirmed cases in the evening press meets.

Minister Shailaja clarified that antigen testing was also a test for the coronavirus and it took half an hour to give results while the RT-PCR took more time. The antigen test would reveal if a person is infected with the virus. The antigen will disappear from the body once the person recovers.

‘Issues shall be addressed’

Minister Shailaja said that all the issues raised by the people of Poonthura shall be addressed. “In three wards of the area – including Poonthura, Puthenpally and Mankiyavilakam – there are over 31,000 people, out of which 5,611 are elderly and 2,250 are children aged below five years. These are the vulnerable categories. There are 2,112 people aged above 70. Lockdown has been put in place to ensure the safety of the people. Police personnel are deployed there. Ten help desks of the health department are installed. Health volunteers are visiting houses to spread awareness,” she said.

However, the police have been harassing them, alleged Andrew, one of the residents of Poonthura. “People have to walk a kilometer to visit the nearest shop that’s open in a neighbouring ward. But then the police beat them up. If the small shops within the Poonthura ward need to stock up, they still need to go out but this is also not allowed. We are requesting authorities to at least allow them to go at the wee hours of 3 or 4 in the morning to buy things, if not 7 to 11,” Andrew says.

Fr Bebinson says that the district authorities were under the impression that shops were allowed to open between 7 and 11 in the morning. They did not realise that the police were stopping people from opening shops at this time. “The Deputy Collector has assured us that all these would be solved. But we have another request to make. When the number of new cases is announced, could they specify which ward it comes from? Now, the cases from all the neighbouring wards of Poonthura such as Puthenpally and Mankiyavilakam, are listed as coming from Poonthura. This causes prejudice against the people of Poonthura. They are mostly fisher folk and they have not been able to go out to fish in the past few days. For many of them, home is a small space that extends to the street outside.”

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